visual bias and the flattening of the body

“If the world is now presented to us most convincingly through the lens of the camera, by means of television footage, or via images on the Internet, what then might the ramifications be for creatural embodiment? Is the body in its multiple sensory dimensions somehow diminished by this excessive attention to sight, to vision, to the eye?” (p. 22)

bone tissueWhile reading Margorie O’Loughlin’s chapter on the “scopic regime” (from Embodiment and Education: Exploring Creatural Existence) I am drawn to her discussion of our culture’s bias towards vision as a superior way of knowing.  She goes on to describe our visual bias as downgrading our attention to the other senses and hence limiting the embodied experience made possible through multisensory ways of knowing.

I had never thought of visual ways of knowing as “oppressive” or “predatory” yet O’Loughlin argues that reliance on the visual  limits our understanding of the body as an organism of knowing. Not only does vision neglect the multisensory, it also separates us from our surroundings through objectifying what we see.  This objectification creates a conceptual distance between the body and the world, which O’Loughlin and others (Nietzsche and Merleau Ponty) argue works against an embodied collaboration between body and world. As O’Loughlin describes:

Our bodies and movement are in ceaseless interaction with the environment; we are not distanced from that world in any meaningful sense.  Rather, world and “subject” infuse, inform, shape and reshape each other constantly. (p. 40)

connective tissueI can’t help but think about how the visual imperative impacts participation online.  While yes, most of the participation is done via looking at a screen, thus an enhanced separation between self and world (virtual or real), I wonder if online participation offers other routes of “implacement” or multisensory collaboration, such as collaborations between the visual and the aural?  I think specifically of digital storytelling where music and the intricacies of voice offer unique materialities to the practices of expression.

The more I think about these aural/visual experiences, the more I think about Merleau Ponty’s discussion of perception as not merely visual but a multisensorial experience that builds flesh. While I’ve only started to read about Merleau Ponty‘s concepts of depth, perception, flesh, and intentionality of the body, I feel that he will be an important part of my work, specifically the aspects of understanding how it is that we construct meaning online, via connections and creation of texts. These connections and creations thus leave traces, or perhaps tissues, that build bodies online, that sense, respond, and perhaps actively resist. How might this reframing of the body open up new understandings of skin?

photo credits


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